Solar Development in California: Preserving our Climate while Protecting our Lands

Expanding solar development in California in a way that meets our clean energy needs while preserving our wildlands and wildlife is no small task.  And it’s not without controversy. 

Coming to the table is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a way of getting things done.

A recent Los Angeles Times piece digs into that. Unfortunately, I think some key points were lost in it.

We’ve got a big problem these days. It’s called climate change. And we better figure out a way to address it before all our land, water, people and critters alike are sacrificed.  But we’ve also got solutions at the ready — clean energy technologies. The trick is finding the balance to ensure we’re expanding these technologies without causing irreparable harm to unique and sensitive wildlife, wildlands and other natural resources.

It’s not easy, it’s not without a lot of back and forth, but I have been committed to solutions to protect the Southwest desert since the start of my career at NRDC. Working to ensure that solar projects are sited in an environmentally responsible manner that conserves the desert while addressing the threat of climate change in a way that is consistent with the commitment NRDC made to protect these resources four decades ago.

And with that, comes my support for some utility scale projects that are willing to make necessary concessions to do it right.  It also means putting the brakes on other such projects that are just too problematic to be worth it. Just last week NRDC filed suit against a solar project that would do more harm than good. This week we offered support for two other solar projects in California that are striking a balance.

Whether we support or oppose a project, the reasons behind it are always based on the facts — not funder support or industry preference, as some incorrectly and callously suggest.  And we also recognize that these projects are not the sole answer — we also need lots more solar panels on roofs, increased energy efficiency and conservation — these measures are all part of the solution. 

I’ve been an advocate for our nation’s public lands for 30 years. Doing what’s best for them has been my guide; there are no other influences — period.

A while back I offered up my thoughts on this issue to set the record straight. Here’s my candid take on the struggles I’ve faced. I hope you take a moment to read my thoughts on this issue and get the real story of how NRDC is working toward smart effective solutions that both stop global warming pollution and preserve wildlife and wildlands across the Southwest.

Image: ruskpp via Shutterstock

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I grew up in the East, and was never any further West than Ithaca, NY, until my second year in law school. That summer I made my first trip West and fell in love with its wilderness areas, stunning landscapes and wonderful wildlife. Two years later, we moved to northern California where I've lived ever since. I have been incredibly lucky to spend my entire professional career at NRDC, beginning in 1972 as a part-timer, when my kids were little, and then graduating to a full timer as they got older. All of my work has focused on protecting the West's special places -- especially its federal public lands. I am now working to help the West respond effectively to the climate crisis and specifically to ensure that the region's renewable energy resources get developed in a way that protects our wildlands and wildlife. When I'm asked how it is that I've been able to do this work for so long, I always say it's because of the places I've fallen in love with along the way and the incredible people I've gotten to meet and work with over the years.

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